The United Nations’ top court has ordered both Armenia and Azerbaijan to work to prevent racial hatred and discrimination and ease their feud following last year's war between the South Caucasus neighbors over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also told Azerbaijan on December 7 to protect Armenian prisoners from the conflict and to stop the desecration of Armenian cultural heritage.
The Hague-based court’s orders are pending a full case review of the dispute, which could take years to resolve. However, the judges have no real means of enforcing their orders.
Yerevan and Baku have both requested that the ICJ take emergency measures against alleged breaches of a UN treaty banning racial discrimination.
The two former Soviet republics "shall refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the court or make it more difficult to resolve," ICJ chief Judge Joan Donoghue said.
Tensions have simmered for years over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan that broke away from Baku's control in the early 1990s.
A six-week war erupted last year that claimed more than 6,500 lives. The fighting ended with a Russia-brokered cease-fire under which Armenia ceded territories it had controlled for decades to Azerbaijan. Border tensions have since remained high, with the worst renewed deadly fighting taking place last month.
The ICJ on December 7 ordered Azerbaijan to "protect from violence and bodily harm" all Armenian prisoners from the conflict and ensure they are treated lawfully, and to prevent the "vandalism and desecration" of churches and other Armenian cultural heritage.
Both Azerbaijan and Armenia must "take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred and discrimination" against the other, it ruled.
The order involved "officials and institutions" in Azerbaijan and "organizations and private persons" in Armenia.
The ICJ threw out Azerbaijan’s request to make Armenia stop laying land mines and to hand over maps of mines, saying that it was not covered by the International Convention On All Forms Of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
During hearings in October, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of fueling a "cycle of hate," while Baku accused Yerevan of "ethnic cleansing."
The ICJ orders come days after Azerbaijan announced on December 4 that it had freed 10 Armenian soldiers captured during deadly border clashes in mid-November.
In return, Armenia handed over maps detailing the location of minefields.
The swap came after Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian agreed to ease tensions on November 26 at a meeting in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.